Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. You've stated that you've never seen the original?
A. Sheer laziness was the reason. I didn’t want
to watch the film, I had never seen it, but I’m not really
a cinephile. I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of
movies. So I missed it on the first go round, whenever it was
released. I would have been very young then anyway.
Then when I got the job, I decided not to look at it, because
I thought I might steal something from Angela Lansbury, and she
wouldn’t appreciate it. Or I would be affected by the performance
in some way and maybe react to it or do something arbitrary, not
to be like her.
I saw it quite a bit... I didn’t read the novel because
I didn’t have time to read the novel. I was reading other
things, and I was watching a lot of political television. I was
doing my homework that way.
When I saw the old film it made me realise how different this
one is, and how specific they both are to their time. That’s
Q. Are people surprised that you’re not a movie
A. I have a very busy life, and not many people who have
a career that’s time consuming, and have four kids, do go
out a lot to the movies. I don’t know why I don’t
watch a lot of movies, I can barely keep up with the current crop
to responsibly vote on behalf of the Academy Awards. You have
to see everything and I honestly don’t see everything.
I can barely keep up with the things my friends are in –
which are the ones I vote for!
I haven’t seen the older ones. It’s like all the books
you want to read. I try to keep current with the books I want
to read this year, but I look at all the things I haven’t
covered yet in the classics and blah, blah, blah. So there isn’t
enough time in life, that’s all.
Q. What do you think of the political tone of the film?
And was your performance inspired by any female politician in
A. My political views didn’t really line up perfectly
with Eleanor Shaw’s, but I thought of it as a great opportunity
to play someone and to understand someone not like me. I also
thought that she presented a unique opportunity, because she was
the full embodiment of everybody’s fear of women in power.
It’s so interesting, everyone here in England thinks it’s
Maggie Thatcher, while everyone at home thinks it’s Hillary
Clinton, because these are the two most formidable women in political
People have their fears, but those two women couldn’t be
more dissimilar from each other, or from this character that I
play, so I think we’re touching on something very deep about
Mommy and the fear of her taking over, or something. But it’s
all a great opportunity.
Q. Can you talk about your scene with Liev, in which
some feelings, other than maternal ones, are suggested in your
relationship with him?
A. The scene was shot in a lot of different ways and
from many different angles and there were a lot of different choices
in different cuts of the film.
It really pulled it in an extreme direction each time we changed
it. It was really interesting, that scene more than any other
sort of worked its primal power.
In the end, we decided that less is more and you get what you
get. You see everything that happens, everything that happens
in front of you. It doesn’t elongate out into a bigger,
Q. Isn't that an old-fashioned idea, 'less is more'?
A. I think what’s great about it is that Jonathan
had a decision, there were some in which there was intent all
the way. There were some where it just seems to have occurred
to both of them in the same moment. It was a labyrinth, and he
loved cutting this scene. My God, there were so many versions
Q. In the original, Angela Lansbury was only three-years
older than her screen son – were you keen to de-mumsify
A. Liev is a friend, we worked together many years ago
in a little play in Seattle. I knew him and could take the piss
out of him. I’m really fond of him, and loved doing that
because he was so stiff.
But I don’t really think of myself as ‘mumsy’
with him, but it did seem ridiculous to me that Angela Lansbury
was only three years older than her screen son, and it seemed
ridiculous to me that her son was British in the original.
There are things we accept from these classic films that we would
never ever let Hollywood get away with. But it occupies a hallowed
place even with the things that bother us about it.
Q. What did you think of your wardrobe in the film?
A. I love costume, in my next life I’m going to
be a costume designer because I really think that what you wear
announces something to people.
But I’m incapable of dressing myself, someone dressed me
and they left the thing [label] on. I’ve just realised that.
I’m a pain in the ass to all of the costume designers with
whom I work because I have very strong feelings about this subject.
Especially when I think of my women viewers.
When I sit with my husband in a movie, if the female character
is bra-less, he notices. But other than that it doesn’t
register. But we read the clues of our women characters so closely.
I think we do that differently, and maybe some men do that too.
It was very important to me to have real good jewellery, we borrowed
a lot of it from Fred Leighton and had lots of guards on the set
– not for our well being, it was for the jewellery.
But the clink of those heavy pearls was like the clink of power
and entitlement and all those things that being inside the beltway
in Washington, and having that kind of access to power and money,
conveys. I thought that was important, and the power suit is a
trope of that kind of woman.
Q. Are you moving towards
more theatre right now?
A. I am, but the movies keep pulling me back. I had four
jobs all of a sudden, thank God, I love making movies because
it allows me to be home at night. I have one child still young,
13, and I like to be home at night and on the weekends, so it
may have a little longer.
Q. What do you think of the state of roles being offered
to you? Is it still difficult to find strong roles for women in
A. I don’t know if it’s true, but Jonathan,
like all good suitors, told me that I was the only one he wanted
to play this part. I don’t know how many other actresses
he sent it to and said that to, but I really believed him.
I thought it was really unusual, that even in the first half hour
of a picture, a woman drove the plot and dynamics, the machine
of the story so forceful and aggressively and so terrifyingly.
I loved having that much to say, it was almost like a play more
than a movie in a way.
I think that things are changing, but every time you say that,
they change back to the bad old days, but I do think that the
emergence of the cable opportunities through HBO and Showtime,
unconventional financing of films that are then deliberately taken
on to television – they may not have a theatrical release
but they reach a great many people – and some of the most
exciting work is now happening in those venues on television.
There are many more independent pictures, and they are giving
opportunities to older women.
But in my case, the biggest reason that I’m working is that
there are two women at the heads of studios where I’ve worked
in the last few years.
One is Amy Pascal, who runs Sony Pictures, and she gave the okay
for me to be in Adaptation.
That was really a part written for a 35-year-old, but Spike said
he wanted me, and she said fine.
Another studio head would have said ‘eugh! Why? Let’s
get somebody 16 years younger’. She was great with it.
And Sherry Lansing runs Paramount, and she has kept me in work
in The Hours, and The Manchurian
Candidate and Lemony Snicket.
So I guess I’m here blood sister or something.
But I do think it’s harder for the studio heads that are
men to be interested in stories that resemble their first wives.
Q. Denzel Washington said he was in awe of you when filming?
A. Now he says that. He’s being nice to me, he
wants me to take him to dinner in Venice. I pushed him into the
potted plant, that’s the extent of my working with Denzel
Washington, even though they sold me the project saying I’d
get to work with Denzel. It was really brief, but we’ll
Q. Do you think the film still has a political relevance?
A. I think when things are really true and relevant to
the time they’re relevant to every time and place.
To me, one of the biggest themes in this is the embeddedness of
money and finance in influencing foreign policy. That’s
something that, in America, our founding fathers worried about.
They worried about the corporations. Dwight Eisenhower famously
worried about the military-industrial complex unduly influencing
So it’s something that’s been around a long time,
it just periodically gets more pressing and more urgent.
And also another theme of this film is who pays. Who pays with
their lives? Not the people that make the decisions or their children.
Q. Is the critical reaction to a film important to you?
A. The work is the most fun, it’s the fun. It seems
illicit in how much fun it is. But the critical reaction is satisfying.
When other actors like you, that’s really good. I really
like it when young people like my work. My son’s friends,
because I think of being irrelevant or something, or not edgy
enough or whatever they value now. It’s very gratifying
to have that recognition.
Q. Where do you keep your Oscars?
A. I keep them very high up on a shelf, and one’s
begun to discolour horribly. I’m sure I should take it down
and polish it up, but I haven’t. All that glitters is probably
Q. Do you ever revisit any of your earlier work?
A. I don’t. But last June I was honoured by the
American Film Institute and they had a televised retrospective.
It’s so horrifying to see how young I was, and how I didn’t
appreciate it then.
That’s what I was trying to tell my daughters – ‘shut
up about your hair!’. You know, all the things that they
think are wrong, because you don’t know where you are in
your life until you pass it.
Just seeing the snippets it really reminded me that it’s
been a really long, interesting journey with a lot of amazingly
And the sad thing, too, that you see is how many of them are gone.
I’m thinking about Karel Reisz, Alan Pakula and Nestor Almendros,
Joseph Papp – people who really made my career in the early
days are all gone.
I can’t properly thank them, so it was great to be able
to thank the people that are alive and that were there. that’s
Q. Do your own kids pay any attention to your advice?
A. Sometimes they do. Not on sartorial matters at all.
I’m really waiting for that look to go away where there’s
this much of the stomach, and the pubic are up to the sternum:
They don’t listen to me that way, but they do listen to
me. I have a good relationship with them mostly.